Chemistry Teacher 

Anyone who cites clubhouse chemistry as a factor on a winning team should be slapped upside the head with a game program from the era of the early-1970s Oakland A's or the late-1970s New York Yankees. Both won a lot of World Series and punched each other several times in les moustaches. Reggie Jackson was the straw that stirred the drink on both squads. Coincidence?

Giants followers know that throughout the team's run of success since 1997, team chemistry has been, shall we say, Barry Barry bad. It's not all Bonds's fault: it doesn't help when your second biggest star is a sullen redneck who avoids his teammates but is always ready with a quip for the press.

Who cares if they like each other? Just win, baby, someone once said. (Please don't make me look for his picture. Ick.)

This year, the Giants clubhouse is infected with the buddy bug. Even cranky Barry admitted that he likes his teammates -- in no small part because Steve Finley came out early in spring training and told everyone that Game of Shadows was full of stilted prose and embarrassing mixed metaphors. "As a Shakespearean post-doc, I know my tragic figures and let me tell you, Barry Bonds is no Othello," Finley told Henry "The Fifth" Schulman.

To cement the jollity, Mark Sweeney organized the spring-training R&R known as "Giants Idol," made Bonds dress up in extra-large coconuts and do a couple pole dances. It was not only a bonding moment, it was hot. And Barry was happy. (Oops, those weren't coconuts, those were his pectoral muscles.)

Don't take my word for it -- listen to the man himself. He's at peace.

Unfortunately, the Giants are wallowing around .500, which is where the chemistry thing comes in. With the Giants Idol contest, Sweeney instantly became a team leader, a self-anointed release valve for a clubhouse that many years running has been politely described as "professional" or "veteran," which can mean anything from uptight to boring to tense, but definitely not fun.

So here comes Sweeney, a guy who's thrilled to make a mil a year, who'll play first and left field but is also happy pinch-hitting, and he snaps a wet verbal towel against the team's bare dragging asses after two limp losses in Florida:

"The intensity has not been there," Sweeney said. "We're gotten good pitching outings both times (here), but we haven't helped them out. You've got to give the other team credit, too, but you can deal with it if you have intensity, and right now we don't.

"We're not coming out like we did in Houston," Sweeney said, referring to a three-game sweep on the last trip in which the Giants outscored the Astros 34-5. "Look at Houston and look at here. It's totally different. Those things happen, but we can't show up and expect we'll be able to win like that.

"I'm not calling anyone out here, but I think as a whole, we're not playing the game hard enough every single night. That's got to happen on a consistent basis if you want to win every night."

So the day after he calls his teammates out -- don't be fooled by his veteran rhetoric -- he rip-starts the offense with a leadoff triple, scores the game's first run, gets another key base hit and the Giants win 6-1.

I'm not saying chemistry is important, but it never hurts to have a guy on the team who makes everyone else's focus a little sharper. Because Felipe isn't going to be making any storm-the-hill-you-dirty-dogs! speeches any time soon.


Blog note: Martin the OGC muses at length about the Giants' strategy in the upcoming draft. Sounds like the crop is weighted toward pitchers. Perhaps this plays to the Giants' advantage, seeing how they seem to scout pitchers better than position players.

Small print update: Now reading John Updike's Rabbit, Run in what will no doubt be a year-long journey through the entire Rabbit cycle. Better late than never. It's much more experimental than I expected -- the jazz/beat inflections, the obvious straining toward a poetic tint in the prose. Not to mention the sex, the tawdriness, the loucheness that bumps up against the small-town Potemkin heroism: High school hoops star, married with kid and over the hill at 25, fucks fat whore after bad Chinese dinner and professes to fall in love. At points it feels too self-conscious -- young brash writer thrusting a chin out to say, Great American novel, here I come -- but people said that about James Joyce, too.


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